What is the “smallweb”?

I have been thinking a lot about what I have come to call the “smallweb”. It’s inspired by many things, and perhaps the best way to get started is by listing those things.

The smallweb is like the old BBSes of yore, when you dialled up and knew all the other dudes (mostly dudes) online. Long-distance charges were an issue, so you wanted to call locally. My brother maintained one called “Dragon’s Lair” or something. Small, local, intimate.

Robert Sharp maintains a Yahoo Group for his family, and another one for the people who live in his tenement. They are closed groups, obviously. The one about his tenement is so they can basically complain about whose turn it is to clean the stairs (correct me if I’m wrong, Rob.) I love this idea. I would love to join, just to eavesdrop – but that would ruin the point. The point is, I don’t live at 123 Wherever Road, so I have no business knowing who has forgotten to sweep the stairs for the fourth time in a row.

Before I arrived in Edinburgh, I thought that backnet was the local community wireless group. Turns out I was pretty wrong. Instead, what we have here are a group of people interested in creating a virtual private network and connecting to each other, experimenting with network infrastructure, and in general, having fun designing, building and managing local and wide-area networks. They are not outward-facing. At first I will admit I was a bit surprised. Eventually I realised that what they are doing is less glamourous but just as interesting as more public-facing community connectivity projects. It’s like a barn-raising. Everyone pitches in to build and maintain the network. There are no passive “users”. It is a very small web.

Another random problem is the “who’s listening” problem. I just posted something very Montreal-specific, the announcement about Nicolas Fleming’s show. According to my current web statistics, only 5% of my web traffic comes from Canada. Who knows what percentage of that is from Montreal. So realistically, much less than 5% of my visitors will even care about this exhibition that I so lovingly described, and encouraged you all to attend. While I wish I could just follow Robert’s lead and make a Yahoo Group for all my art tips for my Montreal friends, it would just be simpler if I filtered IP addresses and geo-specific posts only showed up if it was relevant to where you are – which I think (again, someone correct me if I’m wrong) is how the BBC managed to filter out people who were not in the UK from watching their downloadable episodes of their new show, “The IT Crowd”.

Think small.

This concludes part one. I am going to synthesize these thoughts and come back for part two.